It may surprise you to know that the central issue in the corrosive debate over harsh interrogation techniques is not what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it.
The real issues are twofold: whether inflicting pain on terrorism suspects is effective in loosening their lips, and whether the practice can be morally and legally justified.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is clearly not disposed to "go gentle into that good night," has been making the case for the efficacy of harsh interrogations. On CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, he said, "I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives."
But how is one to know?
Only this week, word came of the death in a Libyan prison of Ibn al Sheikh al-Libi — apparently a suicide, according to a Libyan newspaper. The Washington Post called him a one-time "high-value source for the CIA." Under pressure in an Egyptian jail, he told of training al-Qaida militants in Iraq for chemical and biological warfare.
The information prodded out of him served to under-gird the speech of Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Al-Libi, who said his treatment at one point included being locked in a mock coffin for 17 hours, was perhaps the greatest source of bogus information after Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile, whose information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction turned out to be inventions.
So Dick Cheney may believe that rough interrogation broke down the resistance of terrorists and saved many lives, but it is just as possible, at least in some cases, that interrogation produced a lethal tissue of lies.